The Priesthoods of the Religio Romana
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
The rites of the state religion under the Republic were performed by the magistrates, primarily the consules, censores and praetores. They were assisted and advised by various collegia of priests, who were often current or former magistrates themselves. There was never a clearly defined separation between political and religious authority in the religio romana. The laws of Rome, its institutions, rituals, and offices, both political and religious, were all handed down from the gods, and often times it was the political institution of the Senate that decided upon what was authentically derived from the gods.
On such occasions it was customary for the Senate to consult the various collegia for their opinions. Almost all of the priesthoods of the Republic were traditionally begun under the kings; the only exception being the septemviri epulones who were established in 196 BCE. Indeed almost all were said to have been established by Romulus or Numa. The one exception was the duumviri sacris faciundis that supposedly dated back only to Tarquinius Priscus. Changes made to the various priesthoods during the Republic are noted below. With the Augustan Restoration new collegia were formed, and older priesthoods were reorganized.

Another form of priesthood existed in a previous era, represented by the flamines. These were never organized into a collegium but in the latter part of the Republic they did come under the authority of the Collegium Pontificum. Even at the beginning of the Republic they seem to have been anachronistic.

By the late Republic, from when most of our sources derive, even the gods who the flamines served were in some cases forgotten. In the story of Tarquinius Priscus’ confrontation with Attus Navius there may be some reminiscence of an older form of priesthood among the people who could still challenge those established by the kings. The flamines represent a religious tradition that predates the founding of Rome, and the broader Italic society extending along the Tyrrhenian coast from which the religio romana arose.

In private religion the paterfamilas acted in the same way as the magistrates did for the state cult. Rites for the family, the household, and the farm were performed primarily by the paterfamilias. In such rites he might consult with one of the priests, too. There was never a full separation between the state cult and that of the family. Often the festivals noted on Roman calendars for the state cult coincided with private rites. Likewise there was never fully a distinction between the various priesthoods serving the state cult and the private cults. Some of the priesthoods clearly began within certain gentes.
Prior to 312 BCE, for example, the cult of Hercules seems to have been only a private cult among the gentes Potitii and Pinarii at Rome. The Luperci of the city cult were drawn from only two gentes, the Quinctilii and the Fabii. Some of the priests of the state cult, like many of the flamines, acted more as though performing private rites rather than public rites. On the other hand the rite of the confarratio, a special wedding ceremony, was performed only in the presence of the flamen Dialis and his wife the flaminica Dialis. Sacrifices might be purchased by individuals, but priests could perform the actual sacrifice in their stead. Individuals might be priests in the cult of one deity or another, or could be different kinds of priests at the same time, and still employ other priests for certain services. In the rites of the Bona Dea, matrons of the leading families gathered at the house of a consul or praetor, the rite lead by the wife of the consul in what might appear as a private rite, yet with the Vestal Virgins attending. So on every level the priests and the priestesses (with the exception of the Vestal Virgins) never represented a separate and distinct group within Roman society, but were rather interwoven throughout its society.

Quattor Summa Collegia
Collegium Pontificum

The collegium was founded by Numa to assist the king in religious matters. Originally all three pontifices were Patricians, but it was then opened to Plebeians by the Lex Ogulnia of 300 BCE, raising its membership to nine (four Patricians and five Plebeians). By the late Republic it consisted of fifteen members (7 Patricians and 8 Plebeians), including the Rex Sacrorum, the Pontifex Maximus and the Flamines Maiores - Flamen Dialis, Flamen Martialis and Flamen Quirinalis. Patricians traditionally held all of these latter positions.
Then in 106 BCE the Pontifex Maximus was opened to Plebeians. Pontifical offices were initially filled by the Collegium itself, which also elected the Pontifex Maximus. By 250 BCE the Pontifex Maximus was elected in the Comitia Populi Tributa, and by 103 BCE the comitia elected the other pontifices from candidates put up by the Collegium. The duties of the Collegium Pontificum were to keep the calendar and determine the dies fasti and dies nefasti, to record the significant events of each year, and to oversee the state religio. The Collegium maintained sacred books that were kept secret until 304 BCE when they were revealed by Gn. Flavius. The Libri Pontificii contained the forms of prayer, the rules of rituals for ceremonial observances, and technical information on the calendar. The Acta Pontificum contained the record of the official actions taken by the Collegium, and the Commentarii Pontificum was a collection of opinions previously delivered, to which the pontifices were obliged to refer before making new opinions.

Rex Sacrorum, or Rex Sacrificialis, together with his wife, the Regina Sacrorum, performed special religious duties formerly performed by the kings. His duties included making sacrifices on the Kalends of each month, and at the nones announcing what festivals were to be held in that month. He also performed sacrifices in the Comitium on 24 March and 24 May, days marked as Q.R.C.F. (Varro L.L. 6.31). On 24 February he performed the regifugium. The regifugium is explained by Ovid to be a reenactment of the flight of the Tarquinians from Rome (Fasti 2.685—852). This explanation has generally been rejected by modern scholars who see it as a more ancient rite of purification (W.W. Fowler Roman Festivals, 327-30; Scullard, Festivals and Ceremonies, 81-2). Chosen to hold office for life by the Pontifex Maximus (by the late Republic at least), he held superior rank and precedence than the Pontifex Maximus, but less authority, in what Livy described as a deliberate political act from the beginning of the Republic (2.2.1).
It is in his relationship to the Pontifex Maximus that arguments have been raised as to the origin of the Rex Sacrorum. The old assumption was that the office was founded at the beginning of the Republic, to assume some of the religious duties of the king. The argument holds that the office was created out of religious conservatism that held the gods could not be appeased without a king to perform the rites on behalf of the city. The problem with that view is that certain religious duties of the king were assumed by the consules, other duties by the Pontifex Maximus. Some doubt is given for the explanation of the regifugium by Verrius Flaccus (Festus p. 278) and elsewhere Festus relates how in earlier times the Rex Sacrorum and Flamines Maiores held precedence over the Pontifex Maximus (p. 198 L). The alternative argument is that the Rex Sacrorum dates back to the Regal period. Cornell noting that Servius Tullius was titled magister populi rather than rex, suggests a change in the kingship at that time, when a popular leader took over political authority and reduced the old king to a religious figure (Beginnings, 232-236). Whether resulting from the inception of the Republic or earlier, the Rex Sacrorum was barred from holding any political office and from membership in the Senate (Livy 40.42.8). An official residence upon the Velia, the domus regis sacrorum was used by the Rex Sacrorum, possibly the same domus publica that was the official residence of the Pontifex Maximus.

Pontifex Maximus presided over the Collegium which held supreme authority over all aspects of the state religious cultus, and some authority over private matters. The pontifices were for example consulted on matters of removing the remains of the dead to new locations. The other pontifices of the Collegium initially elected him to his office, assisted him, and held rank behind him according to seniority.
Beginning in 212 BCE the Pontifex Maximus came to be elected in a special manner by the minor pars populi. Seventeen voting tribes were selected by lot from among all thirty-five tribes, and these alone would then vote in his election. In most affairs he worked collegially with the pontifices but held additional responsibilities as well. He had authority over the Rex Sacorum and disciplinary authority over the flamines and the Virgines Vestales. Even in sitting in judgement of a Vestal for the serious infraction of losing her virginity, he would act collegially with the other pontifices. But in lesser matters he held full paternal authority over the vestales. He was the only male permitted to touch the vestales, could whip them for infractions, and he alone was permitted to enter their holiest sanctuaries and view their sacred objects. He supervised the other vestales in instructing younger ones, and may have played some role in instructing them as well. In order of precedence, he ranked behind the Rex Sacrorum and Flamines Maiores until the latter part of the Republican era. However the Pontifex Maximus alone selected and presided over the induction rituals of the Virgines Vestales, the Rex Sacrorum and the Flamines Maiores, probably with the advice of the other pontifices. These offices never became elective. He was even able to select individuals who did not seek to hold such offices. Such was the case in 209 BCE when Pontifex Maximus Publius Licinus chose an unwilling, and who by reputation would have seemed unsuitable, G. Valerius Flaccus as flamen Dialis. In exercising his authority over the flamines it is not clear whether he was able to employ corporal punishments as with the vestales. In a series of conflicts between the Pontifex Maximus and the various Flamines Maiores between 242 and 131 BCE, he restrained the flamines in certain actions by imposing a fine (multa). His right to impose a fine extended to magistrates as well and even to private men whom he intended to inaugurate as priests. The fine could be appealed through the tribuni plebis taking the issue before the Comitia Plebis. In every case we know of, the Plebeians voted that the flamines obey the Pontifex Maximus. There were some specific public ceremonies that the Pontifex Maximus participate in or presided over, such as the annual Procession of the Argei along with the vestales. Responsible for overseeing the state cult he was usually present at public ceremonies whether performed by magistrates or flamines. There were also special occasions when he would preside over a ceremony, such as the lustration of the pomerium in times of severe threats to the city. Whenever there was a vacancy among the flamines, their ceremonial duties were performed by the pontifices. But unlike the flamines he was not bound to any program of ceremonies that he was expected to conduct throughout the year.

Flamen Dialis was the chief priest of Jupiter and an ex officio member of the Senate, given the privileges of wearing a toga praetexta, having a sella curulis in the Senate, and the services of a lictor. He was chosen by the Pontifex Maximus to hold his office for life. The qualifications were that he had to be of the patrician order, a son of a marriage consecrated in the special rite of confarreatio, and be married by the same rite. One duty of the Flamen Dialis and his wife was to preside over rites of confarreatio.
Every day involved a religious ceremony for him to perform. As such, there were several taboos placed upon him. He could not remain away from his private residence at the Regia, until during the Empire when he was allowed to remain away for two nights a year. The reason being that he had to sleep in a special bed, its feet smeared with clay, and no one else was permitted to sleep in his bed. At the head of his bed was kept a box filled with sacrificial cakes. He was never to appear in public without wearing the insignia of his office, including his special headdress, called an apex. He was not permitted to look upon a levy of armed men, nor even upon common citizens engaged in work. It was never lawful for him to swear an oath. He could not wear a ring unless perforated and plain. Nor was he to wear any knots in his headdress or his belt, or anywhere on his person. Nor could he wear any chains, or even so much as have chains in his house or near him. He was not allowed to ride, touch or eat horses. He could not name, touch or eat ivy, beans, goats, or dogs. In many other ways he was restricted in his personal life as to what he could and could not do (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, X.15.1-25). Although not barred from holding public offices, the limitations put on him made it difficult. The flaminica Dialis was the wife of the
flamen Dialis and she likewise was under certain taboos regarding her dress, sexual relations, bathing, combing and style of wearing her hair, etc (Ovid, Fasti 3.393-8; 6.225-234). From the kalends of February until the Lupercalia (15th), at the Matronalia on the kalends of March and perhaps throughout the entire month, from the nones of April until the Vinalia (23rd), and again in June (1-15) were times when she was barred from combing her hair or having sexual relations, because she was engaged in ritual mourning.
Both presided at certain state ceremonies, more often as witnesses, in addition to the daily rites that they had to perform. It seems rather odd that the flamen Dialis is said by Ovid to have been responsible for keeping the antique form of the rites performed at Lupercalia (Fasti 2.282). Nowhere else is this mentioned and it has been generally disregarded by modern scholars since the sacrificial victims at Lupercalia were two goats and a dog, which the flamen Dialis was prohibited from sacrificing himself.
But we need not consider Ovid’s passage to mean that he performed the sacrifices himself, the Lupercii would more properly have done so. The flamen and flaminica Dialis were never permitted to divorce. Were the flaminica Dialis to die prior to her husband, the flamen Dialis was obliged to resign from his office (Ovid, Fasti 6.232).

Flamen Martialis and Flamen Quirinalis were two other members of the Collegium Pontificum and were flamines maiores. It is not known if any particular taboos were placed upon these offices as with the Flamen Dialis, but in some ways they were restricted in their activities. They were responsible for performing special ceremonies to their respective deities, as were all flamines. They were not then permitted to leave the province of Italy and assume the duties of other magistrates in distant provinces.
The Flamen Quirinalis had to be in Rome for the Quirinalia (17 February), Robigalia (25 April), Consualia (13 Dec) and Larentalia (23 Dec). The Flamen Martialis likewise had to be in Rome on certain dates to perform the rites of Mars. At other times they are seen as part of the Collegium. In particular is the famed case of September 57 BCE when they heard Cicero’s arguments for rebuilding his house on land that had been consecrated as a shrine to the goddess Libertas. No distinction is made between the flamines maiores and the pontifices during the hearing, and one would have to assume that, by that time at least, the flamines maiores were full collegae of the Collegium Pontificum.

Originally composed of two members, in the early Republic it was increased to four patrician augures. The patrician hold over the Collegium Augurium ended in 300 BCE when the Lex Ogulnia increased the number to nine augures, four patricians and five plebeians. Sulla raised the number to 15, and Julius Caesar added one more. Originally members were coopted into this collegium by other members, but became an elective office in 104 BCE. The insignia of the augures was the trabea (a special state dress with a purple border), the capis (a special earthenware vessel holding libations), and the lituus (a staff without knots and naturally curled at the top). The auguries were taken whenever a comitia was called to assemble, whenever a magistrate was to take office, at the erection of a temple, and on other occasions. The magistrate actually performing the augury was called the auspex, while the priests overseeing the rite and advising him were the augures. The manner that an augury was conducted began at midnight, or just before dawn, when the auspex drew into the soil two perpendicular lines to mark out the north-south and east-west axes. Two sets of parallel lines were then drawn to form a 6:5 proportioned rectangle. This space and the corresponding space in the sky, divided into 16 areas, was called a templum. At the center of the templum was erected a tent, opened to the south. At Rome there was an established templum on the Capitoline Hill, called the Auguraculum upon the Arx. Another Auguraculum Quirinale was established on the collis Latiaris. Erecting a templum and tabernaculum was therefore not necessary for the auspiciae publicae taken inside the pomerium, although the auspex would designate the corresponding templum in the sky that he would use. The full rite of erecting the templum was made when performed in the Campus Martius prior to the assembly of the Comitia centuriata. Flute players (tibicines) were instructed to play, less the auspex hear any ill omens. The auspex would then watch for the flight of alites such as eagles and vultures, and listen for the calls of other birds, known as oscines, such as ravens, crows, and owls.
Some other birds were considered if they were sacred to certain deities, such as Mars’ woodpecker. Other signs like thunder and lightning would be noted as well. The augures watched as the auspex perform the rite, seeing that it was done correctly and that nothing might invalidate the rite. They could point out signs to him, or assist in interpreting what signs he saw. They did not however take the auspices themselves, nor determine how the signs should finally be read. When conflicting signs appeared they only advised the auspex on the relative importance of each while interpreting the augury. The auspex could only announce to the public, “Aves Admittunt (the birds allow it)” or “alio dies (another day).” Auguries were not a form of telling the future, but used only to tell whether the gods approved of some proposed actions.

Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis

Originally formed under the Tarquins as a board of two patricians, the Duumviri sacris faciundis, in 337 BCE their number was increased to ten, five patricians and five plebeians forming the Decimviri, and later still to fifteen members, named the Quindecimviri. Their duty was to maintain and inspect the Sibylline Books. According to legend the Sibylla Cumae first brought nine books to Rome and offered to sell them to Tarquinius Superbus. He refused to meet her price, so she burned three of the books. She returned with the six remaining books, asking for the same price, which again the king refused to pay. She burnt three more books, and Tarquinius eventually paid her original price for the remaining three books. The books were written in Greek hexameters, stored in a vault beneath the Temple of Jupiter. These were lost in a fire in 83 BCE. A second collection was gathered into the Palatine Temple of Apollo, from different sources, ten different locations in the Mediterranean having had Sibyls. This later collection was destroyed in 405 CE. What remains today, known as the Sibylline Oracles, is a Christian forgery, although is does have some original Greek oracles interspersed throughout. Fragments of Sibylline oracles remain in other sources as well. Tacitus (Annales 6.12) gives the process by which books were accepted into the collection as authentic. Before the Quindecimviri books were examined by their verses being read aloud, the whole collegium giving their opinion as to their authenticity. If accepted, a motion was made to the Senate that they be accepted into the Sibylline collection. The Sibylline Books were consulted only on rare occasion.
It was due to these inquiries that the cult of the Magna Mater was introduced, and that a special priesthood of Ceres, composed of women from Capua, were brought to Rome. On other occasions special sacrifices were ordained by the Senate after consulting the Sibylline Books.

Septemviri Epulones

Established in 196 BCE with originally three epulones, later increased to ten, this collegium was responsible for organizing the banquets of public festivals and games, especially the epulum Jovis, which was the feast held for Senators after the sacrifices made on the festivals of Jupiter Optimum Maximus.

Flamines Augustales

First instituted by Augustus, and later included among the major priesthoods, these flamines were responsible for maintaining the imperial cult. Every major city was to have two elected flamines Augustales. In time, as other emperors were deified (divi), the Augustales performed rites to all of them so that they would continue to look over the safety of the empire. Special temples to the divi were built in imperial cities, such as at Ostia.

Minor Priesthoods and Sodalitates

Flamines Minores

In addition to the Flamines Maiores mentioned above there was another group of flamines. These Flamines Minores were the Flamen Carmetalis, Flamen Cerealis, Flamen Falacer, Flamen Floralis, Flamen Furrinalis, Flamen Palatualis, Flamen Pomonalis, Flamen Portunalis, Flamen Volcanalis, and Flamen Volturnalis, among others. Varro derived their name from filamines “because in Latium they had kept their heads covered and bound their heads with a fillet (filum) (Lingua Latine V.84). The distinctive headwear of the flamines was a leather skullcap tied under the chin, and a peak formed from a living olive branch, the apex. Unlike the Flamines Maiores, there was no requirement that the Flamines Minores be patrician. Some, perhaps all, were plebeian. They were never organized into a collegium but instead each acted individually. By the late Republic they were placed under the authority of the Pontifex Maximus, and although there is no record of them being members of the Collegium Pontificum, the Plebeian pontifices that entered the Collegium in 300 BCE may have been Flamines Minores at the time. Each of the flamines held their position for life. Each was dedicated to the service of a particular deity. In addition to each having their own daily programme of private rites to perform, they conducted public rites on certain dates. The flamen Palatualis, for example, offered public sacrifice to Pales on the Agonia (11 Dec.). In some cases their respective duties seemed to overlap. There was a rite held in August where the arms of Quirinus were smeared with a special ointment. But it was the flamen Portunalis who performed this rite, rather than the flamen Quirinalis as might be expected. For others, like the flamen Falacer, there is nothing known even about the god he served. They were not derived, as some have suggested, from religious duties once performed by the sons of the kings. Indeed they seem to represent an earlier Latin priesthood that preceded the kings and Rome itself. In the case of the flamen Quirinalis, he seems to represent Romulus in the various rites he performed. The flamen Falacer may have represented the Latin deified hero Falacer.

Virgines Vestales

The Virgines Vestales were established by Numa, the first being Gegania, Verania, Canuleia, and Tarpeia (Plutarch, Life of Numa 10). The Pontifex Maximus chose six young girls to be trained as vestales, whose duties would then become to produce the mola salsa for state sacrifices, and maintain certain sacred objects. They participated in certain rites, such as the procession of the argei in March, and at the women’s rites for Bona Dea in May and December. Their persons were regarded as sacrosanct, and they could extend sanctuary to anyone in their presence. Each vestal took an oath of chastity for thirty years.
The first ten years spent in training, the next in performing their duties of keeping the Flame of Vesta, and the final ten years teaching others. They were then allowed to leave the priesthood and marry, although few ever did. The punishment for breaking their vow of chastity was burial near the Colline Gate. In some cases this seems to have been used as an excuse for vestales to become victims of human sacrifice to purify the city. Such occurred in 483 BCE when Vestal Oppia was sacrificed to propitiate the gods for bad omens. Other incidents of Vestales being sacrificed took place in 211 and 116 BCE, and that of Vestal Cornelia by Domitian. There were other privileges that the Vestales enjoyed unlike other women, such as owning private property and allowed to pass on their property through wills. They came to serve as the curators of public wills, especially after Julius Caesar entrusted his own will to the Virgines Vestales.


Sacerdotes was a general name for the temple priests of the religio romana. Varro said they derived their name from sacra, meaning “sacred rites” (Lingua Latine V.83). Every temple was headed by a sacerdos. A staff who cared for the temple assisted him; each custodian called an aedituus. Other priests were the popae who would slit the throats of sacrificial animals, and the victimarii who would then remove the viscera of sacrificial victims and portioned out those parts meant for the gods and those for humans. The sacerdotes Liberi were another kind of priestess, old women crowned with ivy, who offered special cakes (liba) on portable altars (foculus) on 17 March for Liberalia (Ovid, Fasti 3.768-770; Varro L.L. 6.14). Another unique priesthood, in that it was exclusively women, was that of the Cererum sacerdotes sermonum, or priestesses of Ceres and the divinities of sowing. Cicero claimed they were all of Greek heritage and performed rites in a Greek manner, although this was not case. Instead they represent part of a Sabellian influence arriving in Rome from southern Italy during the middle of the third century. With them arrived a change in public Roman rites, where women began to take a prominent role. For the first time matrons and girls joined with these priestesses in making public processions, singing, and offering gifts to Ceres (Livy XXVII. 11.1-16, 37.4-15). Shortly afterward matrons also played the prominent role in bringing the cult of the Magna Mater to Rome in 209 BCE.

Collegium Haruspices

The Etrusca disciplina, or haruspicina, was the art of divining from the entrails (exta) of sacrificial animals. The story is told (Cicero, On Divination 2.50) how a cloud of smoke arose in the field that a farmer was plowing in Tarquinii. Upon the cloud sat an infant, Tages, who spoke with the voice of a wise old man. His words describing the art were recorded in the Libri Tagetici. Etruscan haruspices specially trained in this discipline were introduced into Rome while she was still under the rule of kings. Originally they were summoned from Etruria, used for both public and private ceremonies, and only later in the Republic did haruspices take up residence in Rome. The practice declined in the late Republic, but renewed interest in Etruria established schools for the Etrusca disciplina within certain distinct families.
The Collegium Haruspices was not established in Rome however until 47 CE, consisting of a Haruspex Maximus and up to sixty haruspices. The Emperor Claudius made the request for the collegium to the Senate, who in turn handed the matter over to the pontifices to decide what should be retained and what reformed regarding the haruspices (Tacitus Annales II.15). In addition to examining the entrails of animals, the haruspices were consulted on omens from lightning, and on prodigies of unnatural things and events in nature that bode ill (Cicero, On Div. 1.12; 2.26; Lucan Pharsalia 1.584ff). In some ways the haruspices challenged the authority of the more traditional Roman augures, which was why they were not organized into a collegium during the Republic. Cicero, himself an official augur, gives a scoffing account of them and quotes Cato the Elder (On Div. 2.51), “How can two haruspices, upon meeting, not laugh at each other?” Claudius’ request, rather than out of piety, was more the act of an antiquarian trying to preserve an obsolete practice. The practice did continue due to his timely intervention, the haruspices consulted even under Christian emperors into the 5th century.

Salii Palatini and Salii Agonales

From Jupiter was sent a sacred shield, the ancilia. As long as the ancilia was held safe, Rome would retain its sovereignty. Numa devised to disguise the ancilia by having Mamerius make eleven copies. Then Numa chose twelve dancing priests, called Salii, to care for the ancilia, perform a ritual dance, and chant their sacred hymn. (Livy, I.20.3-4; Ovid, Fasti 3.369-92). This collegium Salii Palatini consisted of twelve patrician members, led by a magister, a prosul for leading their dance, and vates for leading their archaic chant. Only fragments remain of the chant, so ancient that Quintillius in the first century C. E. used it as an example of unintelligible speech. The Salii Palatini were devoted to serve Mars Gravidius.
Tullus Hostilius established another collegium Salii Agonales that served Quirinus. They wore
embroidered tunics and archaic peaked helmets and bronze breastplates. On 1 March, and lasting until 24 March, the Salii removed the ancilia from the sacrarium Martis in the Regia, and would dance in procession through the streets of Rome preceded by trumpeters. At certain altars and before temples, they would stop to sing their chant in Saturnian verse, beat the shields in three measured time, and performed their dance. At the end of each day the ancilia were stored and the Salii feasted. Their performances were made in conjunction with other festivities dedicated to Mars. On 11 March chariot races were held in honor of Mars; on 14 March Mamurius was ritually driven from the city; on 19 March the ancilia were washed and purified; and on 23 March was held the Tubilustrium when the sacred trumpets were purified. Carrying the ancilia (sacred shields) and hastae (spears), this ancient rite of the Salii marked the beginning of the war season. Another ceremony was held in October when the Salii purified and stored the sacred articles over winter to end the season.

Luperci Quinctiales and Luperci Fabianii

Each sodalitas of Luperci consisted of members drawn from two specific gentes. The Fabii were
associated with Remus and the Quirinal, the Quinctilii with Romulus and the Palatine. At the Lupercalia on 15 February two Luperci were selected, one from each gentes, to perform the rites of that festival. The Flamen Dialis is said by Ovid to have supervised the rites. Goats and dogs were sacrificed, probably by the Luperci themselves as the flamen Dialis would have been prohibited from doing so. Blood from the sacrificial knives was smeared on the foreheads of the Luperci, and then wiped off, to which the Luperci responded with laughter. Strips of goatskin taken from the sacrifice were wound around the two Luperci who were otherwise naked. They would then run around the Palatine beginning near a cave on the north side, whipping the crowds with leather thongs; any woman so touched was considered to become fertile. Ovid has this rite performed on behalf of Faunus and claims Greek Evander introduced the rite. Varro instead said the deity worshiped in the rite was Inuus, a Sabine fertility god, and brought it more correctly back to its Italic origins. The name Luperci refers to Romulus and Remus as having been suckled by a wolf.
The rite of the Luperci goes back to the dawn of Rome when it was still a pasturalist community.


As many as twenty fetiales acted as heralds entrusted with carrying treaties and declarations of war to foreign lands. Livy (1.24.3-9) records the oldest treaty, between Rome and Alba Longa, in which the ritual formula for sending one of the fetiales, consecrated as the Pater Patratus, is given. Sacred herbs from the Arx on the Capitoline Hill were rubbed on his head and beard, marking him not only as the messenger of Rome and its people, but of Jupiter. He recited the conditiones of the treaty in a sacred and legal formula, calling on Jupiter as witness and securing by oath that Rome would not be the first to break the treaty. For declarations of war a fetialis was sent to the land of the enemies (Livy 1.32.6-14).
He declared himself to the borderlines, then to the first person he would meet, and then in the market place, where he would recite the grievances and reparations demanded by Rome. The enemy nation was given thirty-three to reply. After that he would return and call out, Audi, Iuppiter, et tu, Iane, Quirine, diique omnes caelestes, vosque terrestres vosque inferni audite! (Hear, O Jupiter, and You, Janus, Quirinus, and all of the celestial gods, and You gods of the earth, and You infernal gods, hear me.) Then he would announce that since an acceptable resolution was not forthcoming he would consult with the Senate. A ritual manner was then followed whereby the king, and later the consules, would ask each Senator in turn by seniority for their advice. As soon as the majority of those Senators present had declared for war, a fetialis was sent back to the land of the enemy and ritually cast a spear of iron or fire-hardened cornel-wood across the border. At the time of the war with Tarentum and Pyrrhus, 282 BCE, the Romans were unable to follow the old formula because Pyrrhus had no land in Italy in which to cast the sacred spear of war. So they captured one of Pyrrhus’ soldiers and forced him to purchase land in front of the Temple of Bellona. From then on this “foreign” land, called the columella, was where the fetiales would cast their spears (Servius, ix.53; Ovid, Fasti 6.205ff). The rituals of war and peace fell out of use by the late Republic, but Augustus then restored the fetiales and their rites.

Fratres Arvales

Varro mentioned fratres Arvales “who carry out public rituals so that the fields may bear crops (L.L.v.85).” Virgil refers to rustic rites performed to Ceres for this purpose in his Georgics I. 338-50. Festus, writing in the second century, mentioned "duobus fratribus" making sacrifices for the fields, probably referring to the same fratres Arvales as had Varro. These fratres Arvales were probably an earlier priesthood, distinct from the Fratres Arvales that were formed into a sodalitatis during the Augustan Restoration.
Lucan’s description of the lustratio of the city boundaries in 49 BCE, for example, lists all of the various priesthoods attending the ceremony, even down to the most minor priests. The fratres Arvales are most noticeable for their absence. There is no mention of the Augustan Fratres Arvales in any literature prior to the first century of the Common Era. Instead we know of them only through the discovery of the Acta Fratrum Arvalum consisting of ninety-six inscribed marble slabs covering the years 14-241 C.E. The Acta was found in a sacred grove at the fifth mile along the Via Campana south of Rome, where in late May they performed private rites. Most often, the annual rites offered sacrifices to the Dea Dia, a goddess who is otherwise unknown. In some years offerings were made to Mana Genuana. But there was never any consistency in the deities named in the Acta, and none of the rites described in the Acta concern a blessing of fields. Rather their rites concern protecting the empire, invoking the gods to safeguard the borders against barbarian invasions. Their main ritual was held in January when they invoked the gods for the wellbeing of the emperor. This sodalitas was lead by a magister and a flamen, elected to hold an annual office. It included many prominent members, including the emperors. Although modern scholars have tried to connect the earlier fratres Arvales with the Augustan sodalitas by adopting Paulus’ emendation of Festus, so that it would conform to another passage in Pliny about there having been twelve Fratres Arvales, there is nothing in the Acta to support this. Like much else in the Augustan Restoration, old forms of rites and priesthoods were remade, introductions really, meant to serve the imperial interests. The Augustan sodalitas of Fratres Arvales was more of an honorarium for imperial politicians than it was a category of priests.

Sodales Titii

Another minor sodalitas, mentioned by Varro and Lucan, the Titii were charged with watching birds for augural observations. Little is known of them including how they may have differed from the augures who performed a similar function. Varro suggested that they were named for the twittering of birds (titiare) (Lingua Latine V.85), and so they may have been concerned with only oscines.


The curiones were responsible for assisting the Flamen Dialis and Pontifex Maximus, later caring for the state funds employed in maintaining temples and conducting state rituals.


The camilli were children who assisted at state rituals. They were usually the children of the higher priests. Some rites included the children of Senators assisting in the ceremonies. The only requirement seems to have been that both their parents were alive and married to one another at the time they served.

Tibicines et Tibicae

An important feature in any ritual of the religio romana was the accompaniment of flute music. Although the tibicines and tibicae were not priests or priestesses, their role at auguries and rituals made them essential. They were especially honored at the minor Quinquatrus on 13 June when a lectisternium of Jupiter was held with the tibicines attending.

Religions of Rome, Vol. I: A History and Vol. II: A Sourcebook, Mary Beard, John North, Simon Price, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998. ISBN 0-521-45646-0

The Beginnings of Rome, T .J. Cornell, Routledge, N.Y., 1995. ISBN 0-415-01596-0

Archaic Roman Religion, Georg Dumezil, trans. P Krapp, Chicago University Press, Chicago 1970.

The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic: an introduction to the study of the religion of the Romans, W. W. Fowler, MacMillian, London, 1899.

Samnium and the Samnites, E. T. Salmon, Cambridge University Press, London, 1967.

Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, H. H. Scullard, Thames & Hudson, London, 1981.

Some Arval Brethren, Ronald Syme, Oxford, 1980.
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